March 21, 2023

Employees should feel it’s their duty to speak up when they suspect unethical conduct, and employers should create a safe environment for them to do that.

Psychological safety is important to building inclusivity and good mental health, but it’s also key to fostering a culture of ethics

Psychological safety at work gives employees the confidence to speak up and be heard. It builds trust and transparency across an organization so employees don’t fear being punished for voicing an opinion, owning up to a mistake or reporting misconduct.  

Identifying deficiencies and reducing risks

It’s a frequent mantra — “if you see something, say something.” But employees may remain silent if an organization hasn’t created a safe and supportive environment for reporting questionable conduct or don’t believe that their opinions count. 

A recent report from Traliant, How Employees Are Shaping the New World of Work, found that 59% of survey respondents felt uncomfortable filing a workplace misconduct complaint out of concerns it won’t be confidential. Almost 40% of respondents said they were reluctant to file a report because of favoritism in the workplace, while 35% were worried they’d lose their job. 

“Businesses work against their interests when ignoring problems and the individuals who raise them. Employees who step forward to report misconduct or other concerns help reduce the financial and reputational risks to an organization.”
-Maria D’Avanzo, Chief Evangelist at Traliant and former chief ethics and compliance officer.

Employees are more willing to come forward when they believe their input will be valued by managers and executives, they won’t face retaliation and that everyone in an organization is accountable, no matter the level or seniority. A speak up environment is one of many factors the Justice Department uses to assess an ethics culture when investigating reports of company misconduct and non-compliance. The ability to demonstrate that your organization supports a speak-up environment where managers appropriately respond to employee complaints is key if the DOJ comes knocking.  

Having a strong code of conduct that outlines the values, principles and expected behaviors of an organization is a good start to building an ethics culture. When reinforced by ongoing training and leadership communication, employees learn how doing “the right thing” in their job is impactful and far-reaching. By also strengthening psychological safety to reward employees that speak up, companies learn of potential risks to their business and reputation earlier so they can take corrective action. 

Insights and Actions

Take the following steps to foster a speak up culture that strengthens workplace ethics, respect and inclusion: 

  • Train employees in what constitutes misconduct and how to report it. Managers need training in how to encourage employees to voice their concerns, effectively respond to complaints and prevent retaliation. 
  • Provide hotlines and reporting websites where employees can anonymously raise concerns and report wrongdoing. 
  • Assure employees that any issue or misconduct report is treated seriously and confidentially. 
  • Frequently communicate about ethical issues and openly discuss the positive and negative impacts they can have on an organization, its customers and stakeholders. 
  • Follow up with employees who come forward with issues or concerns to let them know their actions haven’t fallen on deaf ears and express gratitude for their speaking up. 

Traliant Training

Need training to help build a speak up culture within your organization? Get a free trial of Traliant’s interactive Psychological Safety at Work training. 



Mark Hudson